The citizens of this nation continue to be done a disservice by those allowed to bandy around terms because they make good soundbytes; by those who encourage them; and by those who realise they can get away with it. We are witnessing an era in this society where all it seems to require to be considered an effective elected official is to find a niche within the above-named areas.
It is attractive politically and in terms of the media to refer to terms such as national unity, power-sharing, shared governance and executive power-sharing, but without holding those who make such pronouncements account for how they intend to make their proposals work. In addition they disregard the fact that aspects of their proposals are already enshrined in the Guyana Constitution. This is to take this nation for a ride.
Even more troubling is the fact that our elected leaders are being allowed to get away with their continued disregard for the constitution once they can mouth the attractive soundbytes. This constitution, even in its imperfect state, as all constitutions are, enshrines the principles of national unity, inclusive governance and shared governance. I reiterate, it is not a failure of the constitution which accounts for the practice of these principles or good governance not being realised; it is the failure of leaders to comply with the constitution and the failure by some within our midst to demand compliance.
Enshrined in this constitution is a system of governance that ensures the distribution of executive/administrative responsibilities at the national (cabinet and opposition), regional (regional democratic councils) and local (town councils, neighbourhood democratic councils, village councils and missions) levels. This three-tiered system ensures working together from the top to the bottom, bottom to top and across the board, which should it be implemented could thwart ineffective governance and marginalisation. The regional and local governments are allowed some degree of independence and legislation was passed to strengthen and deepen these constitutional executive/ administrative sections, so groups could be allowed a greater say in the development of themselves and their communities.
Where we have borrowed from the Westminster system that allows for the shadowing of the executive, the leader of the opposition is placed under the executive in our constitution. Over the years this has guided the act of shadow ministerial portfolios/ shadow executive responsibilities. And as happens in progressive societies the role of the opposition is not only to oppose and dispose, but to also propose, expose and support where necessary. In this competitive political structure the opposition is allowed to continue to make its case as the better alternative. An instance can be in the development of the National Budget.
For while it is the constitutional role of the executive to prepare the budget, the opposition can also partner with communities and stakeholders to propose what should be in the budget and thereafter present it to the executive for inclusion. Here is where negotiation can take place and consensus be arrived at, and where the government ignores the will of the people, the people will mark them with their outcries and through the ballot. The constitution in its executive structure allows the opposition to create a parliamentary agenda and work with the people/stakeholders consistent with principles of executive responsibility to keep the incumbent on its toes, ensuring the upholding of the constitution and respect for the independence of the judiciary, and proposing policies and passing Bills to the benefit of this nation. The constitution allows the opposition to show how national unity, inclusive governance and shared governance can work and must work.
Article 13 of the Constitution expressly outlines the Principal Political Objective of the society. This article must guide our actions and the politicians should be held to accountable to it.
This article mandates an inclusionary democracy and requires the fulfilment of this through involvement of the people in the management and decision-making processes of the state on issues that affect their well-being. The constitution has enshrined articles that still await legislative development that would bring about political autonomy and economic independence to the regional and local government arms.
This constitution holds all to the same standards and requires all to play by the same rules, which is the most important element in any system where national unity becomes a conversation or around which it is centered. Yet we continue to see elected officials running afoul of this very principle and being allowed to get away and trying to mislead the society to think that the constitution is deficient or that they are complying with the constitution. Going forward, no system, however perfect it is, will bring about different results if those who are tasked with the responsibility to administer the system are not prepared to subject themselves to the rules governing the system, and the citizenry fails to hold them accountable to the system.
What this society continues to get is excuses for poor governance, corruption and non-performance, with the constitution presented as the noose around our necks.
What this society continues to be burdened with is false promises, inaction and excuses for inaction. The society has been done a great disservice by those who have not read the constitution, don’t understand the constitution, are violating the constitution, or are wedded to the belief that there is an axe to grind with the constitution.
If citizens and civil society hold accountable those who claim they are obeying the constitution; or those who claim good governance and inclusivity can only be achieved with constitutional change, yet disregard the present constitution that enshrines the very things they claim or seek, not only will the national discourse be productive and meaningful, but governance will also be consistent with the aspiration this nation is being led to believe they seek.